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Rishi Sunak’s Rwandan Nightmare is Pushing His Government Beyond Reason

The Prime Minister’s immoral and obscenely expensive plan will only end in tears for everyone involved

Rishi Sunak speaking at a press conference in Downing Street: Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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“We are reasonable people, trying to do a reasonable thing,” said Rishi Sunak on Monday, as he defended his plans to push ahead with deporting people to Rwanda this summer.

His claim of reasonableness is a curious one. In order to fulfil his pledge, the Prime Minister has had to pass a law which directly overturns, not just the tenets of international treaties already signed up to by the UK, but a decision by the UK’s own Supreme Court that Rwanda is not a safe country.

Now it has been passed, those expected to be targeted by Sunak’s “reasonable” scheme will include refugees fleeing war and persecution, victims of modern slavery and even Afghan interpreters.

Doing so will require huge resources. In his statement yesterday the Prime Minister said he had put on standby 2,200 detention spaces, 200 caseworkers, 25 courtrooms and 150 judges who could provide “over 5,000 sitting days” to deporting asylum seekers.

At a time when the courts backlog means rape victims now have to wait almost two years for their cases to see a trial, the Prime Minister suddenly seems to have found acres of spare capacity in the system.

It won’t be cheap either. At an estimated cost of £1.8 million per deportation, the total cost is expected to reach half a billion pounds in order to deport just a few hundred of those individuals with the most legally clear-cut cases. With legal challenges, even for these cases, expected to stretch on for months, the cost could balloon much further. Meanwhile 99% of asylum cases will remain entirely untouched by the scheme.

Supporting this supposedly “reasonable” strategy this week was the Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell, who told the BBC that the Government was united behind the plan, while suggesting that critics of it were somehow “racist”.

This again feels like a curious claim, coming as it does from a man who just two years ago spoke up loudly and passionately against the scheme, which he described as “a breach of our international undertakings, bad for our country’s and the Conservative Party’s reputation, eye-wateringly expensive, and most unlikely to achieve its aim”.

Mitchell was right back then, just as Sunak himself was right when he reportedly sought to block the scheme while he was Chancellor and just as his current Home Secretary James Cleverly was right when he reportedly privately described the plans as “batshit”.

Yet all three men are now seeking to convince us that the same unworkable scheme they previously completely saw through, is now a moral imperative for the whole nation to get behind.

‘Asylum Seekers Could Make UK £1.2 Billion – Instead the Government is Spending That On Keeping them in Inhumane Conditions’

One solution to the UK’s economic and labour shortage problems is asylum seekers – if only the Government stopped to consider options other than sending them to Rwanda

Voters Don’t Believe Rwanda Will Work

The public are yet to be convinced, however. Although new polling conducted last week by pollsters We Think for this paper, suggests that voters are narrowly more likely to support the scheme than oppose it, by 42% to 33%, those backing the scheme appear to have little hope of it actually achieving Sunak’s aims.

According to the poll, just 26% of those UK voters surveyed believe the scheme will make a “real difference” to the numbers coming to the UK, compared to 54% who believe it will not make a real difference. 

Even exclusively among current Conservative voters, the poll suggests that more people believe the scheme will not make any real difference to migrant numbers (44%) than believe it will (43%).

In any case, the argument may not be properly tested any time soon. Sunak’s pledge this week that flights will definitely take off “this summer” follows hot on the heels of his previous pledge that they would definitely take off by this spring, and his former Home Secretary’s pledge that they would have definitely taken off by last summer.

In reality legal challenges to the deportations are likely to be lengthy with the possibility of the entire scheme ending up in a major Cabinet row over whether the UK should ignore, or simply quit the European Court of Human Rights in order to proceed with the flights.

And even if ministers do somehow overcome these challenges and get flights off before the general election, the numbers of potential deportees able to be accommodated by the scheme are so small that it is highly unlikely to act as any meaningful deterrent to those still seeking to come to the UK. To put the numbers into context, in just two days earlier this month 758 people arrived by small boat to the UK, more than twice the capacity of the entire Rwanda scheme.

And even if that capacity could be somehow massively expanded, it is not clear that it would have anything like the deterrent effect Sunak predicts. As Mitchell himself commented two years ago, “Nor will people sent to Rwanda necessarily stay there; having already shown determination to start a new life in UK, they will start their long weary journey all over again. 

“This is one of the reasons the Israeli government abandoned their attempt at a similar scheme with Rwanda.

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The further risk is that the very existence of the scheme could simply mean that more asylum seekers opt to evade the authorities altogether. As Mitchell put it: “For those arriving in the UK illicitly, once the scheme is up and running, there is a far greater likelihood of them disappearing within the UK unaccounted for and unaccountable.”

This therefore poses the question as to why bother? Why push ahead with a scheme that has uncertain public support, is hugely expensive, and is highly unlikely to actually work?

The answer is that despite Sunak’s claim to “reason” the Rwanda scheme is in reality about the complete opposite. Like Donald Trump’s pledge to “build a wall” which never actually got built, Sunak’s flights to Rwanda are a deliberate appeal to the imagined emotions and prejudices of the electorate.

It is also possible that the scheme is deliberately designed to be blocked, with the Conservatives hoping to turn the general election into a Brexit-style referendum on whether to quit “foreign courts” and deport “foreign criminals.”

Yet the UK is not the US, and Sunak is not Trump. And with polls suggesting that the public’s overwhelming priorities for Government action are the cost of living and the NHS, Sunak’s Rwandan retreat only risks making him look even more out of touch with the electorate than he already does.

So far none of this appears to be fazing our so-called “reasonable” Prime Minister, who is instead betting absolutely everything on drawing an electoral line with the Labour party, no matter what the cost to the UK exchequer, our international reputation, or the lives of those affected.

But by pushing ahead with the scheme, beyond all possible reason, Sunak’s Rwandan dream risks turning into an almighty nightmare for everyone involved.

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